Sgt. Anthony Bankhead / Photo courtesy of CBS 2 Chicago
The Illinois Department of Corrections performed a “compliance check” at a Dolton home where a parolee was staying in the early morning of Dec. 9, 2011.
Found inside the ranch-style home was a .32-caliber pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, 20 rounds of ammunition and two “blunts,” or cigars stuffed with marijuana, according to interviews, and public records obtained by the Better Government Association and CBS2.
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Pierce Cole, 59, legally owns the weapons and the home in south suburban Dolton. He had been letting his friend Farren Caridine, 48, stay there since Caridine’s release from the state’s Logan Correctional Center in June of that year.
Because the shotgun and shells were found in an area of the home’s basement where Caridine slept he was charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon, a parole violation, and sent back to prison. Dolton police processed his arrest and took possession of the unloaded guns, ammunition and drugs.
More than a year later a Cook County judge dismissed the weapons charge and ordered Dolton police to return the weapons and shotgun ammunition to Cole, according to interviews and public records.
Pierce Cole’s early 1900s pistol / BGA photo
But when Cole went to the Dolton police station to pick up the items, he discovered Sgt. Anthony Bankhead had inventoried his shotgun and the shells – but not the pistol, which had belonged to Cole’s deceased grandfather. Yet a Department of Corrections parole violation report said Dolton police had taken “possession of both weapons.”
It wasn’t until Dolton Police Chief John Franklin asked the Cook County sheriff’s office to investigate that Cole learned what happened to his early 1900s pistol, which resembles a valuable German Luger but, according to gun experts, is actually an American-made knock-off, worth a few hundred dollars.
Initially, Bankhead told Dolton police officials he didn’t know what happened to the gun. But when sheriff’s officers finally questioned him Bankhead said he had placed the pistol in a cabinet drawer in the police station, a violation of department policy. The blunts were never located.
Now, Dolton is taking steps to discipline and possibly even terminate Bankhead for official misconduct, failure to properly inventory and more, officials say.
“I wanted to send a message to him and other officers that the old way of doing things isn’t allowed anymore,” says Franklin, an ex-Chicago police commander who was hired last year by Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers.
In a similar but unrelated incident, a Schaumburg police officer was sentenced to 18 months of probation in late 2013 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. The officer had kept a handgun that a resident had turned into police, and the officer has since resigned from that department.
In the Dolton case, the sheriff’s office didn’t pursue criminal charges against Bankhead because “we couldn’t establish that there was intent to deprive,” says Cara Smith, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman. “We couldn’t prove the gun was stolen.”
“He should be brought up on criminal charges,” Caridine says.
“Terminated immediately,” is what Cole, a longtime U.S. Postal Service worker, says would happen to him if he was caught with a piece of missing mail.
Bankhead, a former Chicago Housing Authority police officer, has worked for Dolton since 1999. He was paid $108,655 last year, according to municipal records.
The sergeant was tight-lipped when the BGA/CBS2 recently confronted him outside the Dolton police station.
He denies trying to steal the gun but had little else to say other than, “The only thing I could think of is [the gun] was forgotten about, that’s all.”
This is the latest misconduct allegation against a department that since 2008 has been sued at least 29 times – among the highest of any Cook County suburb – for brutality, false arrest and more. Last year, a former Dolton police officer was convicted on federal excessive force charges and was sentenced to 75 months in prison.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter and CBS2’s Pam Zekman. They can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9035.